Ontario to spend $30 million on Hamilton hospitals amid ‘significant pressure’ of virus season

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Published November 27, 2023 at 10:42 am

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Hamilton Health Services’ hospitals are under “significant pressure” amid a rise in COVID-19 cases and a swelling surgical backlog. The McMaster Children’s Hospital in particular is seeing stresses at 95 per cent capacity.

Rates of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have again increased as the flu season began. The latest weekly HHS update found 27 pediatric patients admitted with flu, RSV or COVID. This is a jump from the 23 admitted last week.

As a result of this rise, the Ontario government has announced a $30 million investment in Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) to “connect children and youth to more convenient and high-quality care closer to home.”

Despite noting HHS hospitals are globally acclaimed, McMaster Children’s Hospital President Bruce Squires said, “There are still gaps, critical gaps, in hospices, hospitals and children’s hospitals across the province are experiencing. These include significant waitlist and of course human resources staffing challenges.”

“Unfortunately investment in our service and our infrastructure did not keep up with the growing number of kids, increasing acuity (particularly exacerbated by the pandemic) and increasing need for more advanced complex care,” he continued. “Those challenges and essentially under-sizing, have limited the sector’s ability to deliver the care we all know is possible for children, youth and families.”

However, Squires noted the new investments will “help grow the hospitals’ capacity and meet the ever-growing demand for specialized care for children and families.” He also said the hospitals were in dire need of these funds a year ago when an “unprecedented viral surge” left Ontario hospitals “overwhelmed.”

“We just didn’t have the capacity to handle the volume of very sick children,” he said stressing children were made to wait 48 hours for an in-patient bed. Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) had to cancel 66 per cent of its scheduled surgeries at the time.

With the understanding the government would step up support, HHS has been working on increasing its capacity for “many months,” X said. This includes new critical care beds, a rapid assessment service and a same-day overnight surgical unit. This has allowed HHS to keep its emergency department flowing “far better” than last year.

He said however, there are still issues including the need to hire new staff. Reports indicate HHS is short hundreds of health care workers with McMaster alone short 365 people.

The provincial funds will be used to address this gap and hire new staff, fund technologies like a tele-resuscitation program, emergency department diversion programs, reducing wait times for youth mental healthcare, and children’s rehabilitation (occupational, physical and speech therapy).

Squires said the new direction was more than growth of the hospital, but a “transformational” change, “This remarkable support is closing many of the critical gaps within the pediatric system. Our skilled healthcare professionals will now be supported so we can reduce wait times and improve access across the spectrum of kids’ care.”

“We’re giving our health care partners the tools they need to quickly connect more children the lifesaving care they need closer to home,” said Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Sylvia Jones. “Our record investments are expanding everything from emergency care to mental health supports to ensure families can access the care they need now, and for years to come.”

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